(Tokyo Shimbun: November 16, 2015 – p. 5)
The terrorist attacks in Paris perhaps triggered memories of 9.11 among many people. What has the world done or failed to do over the past 14 years?
“The 9.11 attacks led to rejoicing in the streets by many, as they sent a serious blow to the U.S. It has been hurting many Palestinians by helping Israel. The attacks on the country vented our pent-up feelings.”
This is what we heard from an acquaintance, a member of the bourgeois living in Cairo, over the phone when a handful of terrorists wreaked havoc on the U.S. on September 11, 2001.
Terrorism is abhorred in Europe and the U.S. But a different part of the world hails it as a sacred war. Regardless of whether it is wrong or not, this is the immovable fact.
The U.S. acted against terrorism on various fronts. First, it waged the war against Afghanistan and Iraq. The war in Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama bin Laden could seemingly be ended easily through air strikes. But drone strikes continue to date, killing many innocent people there.
The war in Iraq started with the naïve idea that if Saddam Hussein were no longer around, democracy could give rise to freedom, rejuvenate the local economy and weed out elements of terrorism. But the situation sank into a morass, allowing for the creation of the Islamic State – something worse than what anyone could have anticipated.
The use of force cannot be denied in the fight against terrorism, but the U.S. operated the war from the desk. And through that process, it ignored or excessively underestimated many things. One of them could have been public sentiment or how people on the street felt.
The other action taken by the U.S. was to facilitate pro-democracy movements, which later produced results in the form of the “Arab Spring.”
In Egypt, people advocated for democracy online through the backing of the U.S. Department of State. It is right for pro-democracy movements to facilitate political participation among citizens, and politics should play a part in addressing problems by listening to the voices of Muslims.
Turkey is an exemplary model. An Islamic political party came to power through elections and succeeded in economic development. That happened in a country that makes the separation of politics and religion a national credo. The Arab Spring should not be judged a failure. It is still in the process of evolution. Chaos continues, but that does not mean that the path toward democracy is closed.
The criticism that the U.S. had waged war indiscreetly and acted self-righteously cannot be avoided. But not all of its anti-terrorism policies should be judged failures.
Experts on the Arab-Islamic world are growing wary of prejudice spawned from terrorism and terrorists and politicians who make the best use of that prejudice.
For example, Gilles Kepel, a French scholar specializing in Middle Eastern studies, said in an article that he contributed to the Le Monde daily after the 9.11 attacks: “The U.S. sees the world only through the lenses of the 9.11 attacks.”
Meanwhile, the right in Israel interprets the war against terrorism for its own benefit and makes the case that Palestinian terrorists risk losing the propaganda war in the U.S. by conducting suicidal attacks.
That is true.
Acts of terrorism are in themselves bad, but they can be used for yet more evil purposes. Those who benefit the most from a split world between good and evil and the gaping rift are terrorists.
The “Clash of Civilizations,” penned by American political scientist Samuel Huntington, became a global best-seller after the end of the Cold War. Its Arabic translation is said to be often quoted in publications issued by Islamic extremist groups. This suggests that terrorists are interpreting the clashes to their own benefit.
The clashes are discussed from the context of world history. They should not be abused by terrorists. We have to keep the world from sliding into the negative cycle of terrorism, hatred, and revenge. To make this happen, we have to facilitate mutual understanding, which is the polar opposite of clashes.
Some may call it an ideal, but it remains questionable how much the U.S., Europe or Japan understands the Islamic world. It is also necessary to link the many lives lost in the two wars with those who were killed in the Paris attacks. If it is described in an overblown way, history tests our ability to deal with terrorism. (Abridged)